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Public service falling short on evaluating policy, Treasury's Makhlouf says

Monday 15th April 2013

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The public service needs to pick up its act in evaluating new policy as it embarks on its most radical reform since the 1980s, Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf says.

The government is looking to tear down walls between departments and ministries as part of its Better Public Services programme to create narrower goals with a more cooperative approach by its agencies.

Among those goals is what Makhlouf calls 'policy stewardship', in that the state sector "should understand the impact that policy is having over the medium and long term and test spending in existing areas to see if it's delivering the results we need," he said at an event hosted by law firm Chapman Tripp in Wellington.

"I'm not sure our policy stewardship is as good as it could be, in particular that our policy evaluations are as good as they could be or that we're sharing our analysis with as broad a constituency as we might," he said.

"There are some very good examples of focusing on medium term outcomes - the latest welfare reforms are a great demonstration of this shift in thinking - but it's an approach we should be taking in other areas across the state sector."

Makhlouf said Cabinet has signed off on regulatory stewardship expectations for the state sector, where departments articulate what their regimes are trying to achieve, what costs and impacts they may impose and what the risks are.

That includes reporting or acting on problems and opportunities to improve, and might warrant the removal of regulation if it's no longer needed, he said.

Earlier this month the Treasury, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and State Services Commission, collectively known as the central agencies, launched a Better Public Services Seed Fund to accelerate reform priorities.

Makhlouf wants the current round of reforms to rival those of the 1980s and make New Zealand's public services "an exemplar for the world again."

He name-checked the Benchmarking Administrative and Support Services programme, which aims to cut down on fragmented back office functions, as driving efficiency, saying it has successfully trimmed 30 percent from the office space used by five government agencies.

Makhlouf talked down fears about a centralised data centre, saying the anonymised information will help the government "get much better at targeting effort and resources into services and interventions that make a real difference" and ensure "they are good value for money."

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